5 Client Rules You Need to Set Before Starting a New Freelance Project

28/03/2017 6 comments

If you want your freelance projects to run smoothly, you’ll have to set some client rules before you start them and make sure clients respect them. Without these, you’ll never know if your next freelance gig will turn into a nightmare. Clients keep adding more requests, change the scope of work or decide to email you outside your work hours (because you keep responding). This makes your job a lot more difficult.

Make sure these client rules are known from the start. Adding them later on, when the project is already well underway is not a good way to run your freelance business.  This the sort of stuff that makes clients really frustrated and can end up in a serious dispute. With every right, I should add. Also, be sure you are consistent with these client rules. Put the same boundaries from day 1 and make sure they are in place for every client. Just like you don’t want clients to change things up suddenly, you shouldn’t do it to them either.

Here are 5 client rules you need to set every time you start working with a new freelance client:

1. Don’t Start a Project Before Getting All the Information About it

You should never start a project unless you have the important information about it from the client. I once made this mistake and that project dragged on and on, because of all the back-and-forth I had to do with the client to get the vital info. As a result, my other projects also suffered a little, as I was now putting more of my energy and mind into that one job than all the others. Lesson learned.

2. Set Your Work Hours and Email Response Time

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I feel this is one of the most important client rules you need to set and here is why. As freelancers, we don’t really have set work hours and, in a way, clients know that and sometimes even take advantage of it. In their eyes you are (or should be at least) always available to “fix this little thing” or “add this to the website”.

But you do have a private life and not everything in it revolves around clients. So, even should you decide to stay up late to finish a project, or get up really early to do it, don’t let the client know about this. They may think this is normal for you and the next thing you know, you’ll get emails from that client in the middle of the night. For instance, I always tell my clients I am unavailable on the weekends, so they know not to email me then.

Which brings me to my second point of this client rule. Make sure the clients knows, or at least expect, when they can hear from you. If you like to do it first thing in the morning, so be it. Although I wouldn’t recommend it, but that’s your call. Set your email to auto-respond at a certain time and make it clear to your clients.

3. Always Have a Clear Project Scope

Scope creep is an incredibly frustrating thing, so it’s very important to have a clear project scope before you start. Make sure that you include everything in your freelance contract and also state how and when the client can ask for a scope change. Even if it’s “only a small change”, don’t do it for free and without letting the client know that you will bill him extra for it. If the client gives you any problems about it, just point to the contract or a written agreement you’ve made with him before the project started.

One of my biggest freelancing pet peeves is with clients who seemingly don’t know what they want or are never satisfied. I know I am doing a good work, but I am still okay with revising my content if the client asks me. However, I always make it clear that I will only to up to two revisions to my content. Everything above that pays extra.

4. Set Clear Payment Deadlines

A few years ago, when I was working for one of my first clients, I (along with several more people working on that project) made a mistake of not setting a payment deadline. Instead what happened is that, when we expected (according to the agreement we all made with the client at the start of the project) to be paid, the client, a digital agency, started making excuses that they are waiting for their employer. Apparently, the web designers messed something up and now the employer didn’t want to pay anything. And that included about a month of work that I and every other writer did.

This is another one of client rules you have to absolutely set an never work on a project unless the client agrees with it. Many clients seem to consider the freelancer as the last person they should worry about and may not be too prompt with paying you. That is why you need to fight for your money and keep reminding them that they should pay you. For example, when I’m working outside of Upwork, I always set a bill date with a client. Then I send them an invoice that day, which they can see in their email. I then send another email tomorrow, just in case they missed it or forgot to reply.

Should you stop working with a client who is not meeting these deadlines? Not necessarily, but a good thing to do is letting them know you will put their project on low priority. Those that are paying you on time should be your top priority.

5. Set an Extra Fee for Tight Deadline Jobs

Sometimes, clients will ask you to do a certain job on a very, very tight deadline. That’s okay, you can still do those, just make sure to tell clients you will bill them extra for it. Normally, I stay away from any job that the client says it’s “urgent” and asks me to do in a short period of time. However, if it’s a client I am already working with, then I’ll do it. Except that I’ll charge them a rush fee.

Do you have any other client rules you set before starting a project? Let us know in the comments below what these are and why you have them.